After returning my Nexus 7 when a fault developed I re-considered its replacement. The Nexus 7, don’t get me wrong, is excellent but I was wondering if the size was right. With a 5″ phone there wasn’t a huge difference between them, so I wondered if a more substantial 10″ tablet would be better.
Naturally, I looked at the Nexus 10. A great tablet, but in need of an update. I waited for the last few months of 2013 with expectations that an update was due and nothing happened. So, with recommendation from a friend, I started looking at the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. Originally more costly that the Nexus 10 it was, at the time, less. And with a Sony PlayStation 4 and the intention of buying a Sony Bravia TV, a matching tablet would be beneficial I was told as the Sony would offer all sorts of pairing options with, particularly, the TV.
So I went for it. And without wanting to jump to the conclusion straight away, it was the best decision.
The Tablet Z looks fantastic – incredibly slim with squared corners and a grippy, but smooth, back. It has a weight of 495 grams and is just 6.9 mm thick. Few tablets, particularly large ones, look good but this really does. Holding the tablet in landscape, the silver power button on the left side looks like the one on the PlayStation Vita, with a volume rocker just under that. A headset socket is also present here too. Along the bottom is a Micro SD card slot (excellent!) and a micro USB socket for charging and data transfer. On the top is an IR transmitter – yes, the tablet can be used as a remote control! All of the sockets are covered and these plastic tabs are removed with swift picking with the fingernail.
It’s also waterproof (you can apparently stick it in a bath for 30 minutes without an issue) thanks to a nano-coating – Sony are making this a regular with their mobile devices and it’s very welcome.
Switch the Xperia Z on and there is quite a slow boot process (not sure what Sony have done to cause that!). Upon first boot I’m initially un-impressed with basic UI elements such as the notification messages appearing in odd places – in this case at the bottom. Sony have taken the stock Android design and completely altered it. Thankfully I’m informed, within minutes, of an OS update and this corrects a lot of this. The current Android level is now Jelly Bean 4.3 (KitKat is due, apparently). More recently I’ve had an additional update which has modified some of the layout even further – for example, Sony allowed some icon-only shortcuts to be added to the top left of the home screen. These have now gone. In forums you’ll find a lot of owners complaining about useful features often being moved or removed. So, my recommendation – don’t do anything after you buy one until all the latest updates are installed. And then don’t assume any non-standard elements that Sony have added will remain.
Apps-wise Sony have installed a lot of their own applications – some aren’t really needed, just Sony pushing their own services, but some are genuinely useful. That decision to buy this tablet and the Xperia TV have really played out well. I mentioned before that the tablet has an IR transmitter and a remote control app allows you to set up devices to control and even create macros so a single button press allows you to send commands to multiple devices at once. It’s incredibly useful.
Also worth installing, but not included, is an app from Sony called Side View. This connects to your Bravia TV and allows you to view an EPG, compact remote control and even thumbnails of current TV programmes that you might be interested in. In the latter case you can simply swipe up on one of these and it will change the TV channel to that programme. There are various social aspects built into this app too, allowing you to make good use of the tablet whilst watching television at the same time – truly, it adds an extra dimension to your viewing.
You can also mirror your screen to a Bravia TV too – a local WiFi connection sends the contents of the Tablet Z screen to the Sony TV, allowing you, amongst anything else you can think of, watch films that you may have on or stream from the tablet. This worked but I found it quite jerky on video – I was streaming it live, though, so this may have been the cause.
One final Sony extra, for game players, is the capability to wirelessly connect a Dualshock 3 (i.e. a controller from a PlayStation 3) to the tablet. Games have to support it and I found that the GTA games too. Playing Vice City on the tablet using a “proper” controller was superb – I never got on with the touch controls. For gamers, particularly those married to the PlayStation platform, the Tablet Z is ideal – it’s also PlayStation Certified allowing users access to Sony’s PlayStation Suite, which allows you to play specific mini games and older PlayStation console games.
Back to the specifications, it has a 1.5GHz quad core processor, 16GB of memory (a 32GB model is also available) but this can be expanded via Micro SD. It has NFC, but no wireless charging, and N-band WiFi. The rear camera of the tablet has 8 megapixels (but no flash) with Exmor R sensor and with full HD video recording capabilities while the front camera has 2 megapixels and is capable of 720p video recording. The Sony camera app is very good indeed with a plethora of options, with others being added over time.
The screen is brilliant – colourful and vibrant. It’s 10.1″ with a resolution of 1920 x 1200, which gives it a 224 ppi density.The speakers too need special mention – they’re very loud and clear, very impressive for a tablet. Battery life, for such a thin device, is also excellent – you can easily get 8-10 hours of usage out of it. Just sat on standby, but with WiFi on, I only need to charge it every few days.
Of course, there has to be downsides and there are.
- In some respects the tablet is too thin – I’m already on my second Xperia Z after easily breaking the screen on the original. I would seriously suggest using a service such as Protect My Bubble to insure it (which I now do).
- Support is odd. When I needed to replace the Tablet Z I found that Sony treat it as a phone, as it’s part of the Xperia Z line. However, elsewhere it’s classed as a tablet.
- The aforementioned regular, and often major, changing of the UI as Sony push out OS updates.
- The changes to Android that Sony have made are annoying – this was one of the reasons I was originally interested in the Nexus 10. The apps they provide and some of the Sony-centric enhancements are genuinely useful but why change the way that core functionality works (accessing your list of apps, etc) just for the sake of it?
- I found performance to be occasionally sluggish, but normally whilst navigating rather than in apps. This is probably more due to the changes that Sony have made, and another example of why stock Android is best.
- The covers on all of the sockets are annoying but appear to be quite standard with Sony mobile devices (the PlayStation Vita does the same, as does my daughter’s Xperia Mini Pro phone). I don’t believe these are to do with the water-proofing as the nano-coating is used inside as well.
- It is an incredible dust magnet! I don’t know why but fingerprints will be the least of your woes – the screen attracts dust constantly (even when using a case).
The packaging was reasonable – mainly cardboard to keep the tablet and various extras separate from each other. Brief leaflets, mainly concerning warranties, are amongst the micro USB cable and mains charger. But you don’t get anything else in the box (some earphones would have been nice considering the price) and there’s a lot of thick plastic wrap around the tablet.
When first released the Tablet Z would cost over £400. I bought mine for £359 from Amazon in early December and just a month later you could find it for £334, so shop around!
[review]Amazingly slim, with an excellent screen, the Tablet Z sets the standard for Android tablet. It would be nice if Sony stopped messing around with the UI but otherwise this is probably the best you can get. PlayStation fans and Sony Bravia TV owners will be particularly rewarded.[/review]